Daytona 500: Jeff Gordon - Media Day visit

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES DAYTONA MEDIA DAY DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY February 5, 2009 JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed not winning a race last year, flying...

February 5, 2009

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed not winning a race last year, flying commercial verses private, cut backs with the economy and much more.

YOUR IDEA ABOUT PLANE-POOLING TO THE FAN FANFEST DID YOU GET ANY RESPONSES FROM ANYBODY? "Yeah, we got a few responses. It didn't go quite as smooth you know we're not used to doing that. We'll have to work on that for maybe next year if the testing policy stays the same."

SOME GUYS YOU WANT TO FLY WITH MAYBE SOME YOU DON'T? "I think that somebody brought up a good point that just safety and security reasons. You don't want to all be on the same plane. You want to treat it like a corporate sort of flight operation where you want to have several different planes, not several but maybe three or four or five planes that are coordinated. But hey there are some guys that just don't have a choice. They're in a location that they have to get to and some place they've got to go private and other guys that could fly with other people and they did. Denny Hamlin and I talked about splitting his plane and flying down there and it ended up being I came from New York. A lot of things played in factors and it was tough to get our schedules, but I think if there were set planes that were going down there I think it would have made it a little bit easier. It all worked out though. I was happy to come down and see the fans and see how many people came out and get a chance to visit the media and everything even though we weren't down here testing."

THERE ARE ONLY A HANDFUL OF GUYS THAT HAVE LONGEVITY AS FAR AS ONE TEAM IN THIS SPORT, YOU HAPPEN TO BE ONE OF THEM. TALK ABOUT YOUR LONGEVITY OF BEING WITH ONE TEAM FOR A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. "I am in that position but at the same time I don't know what it is like to not be in that position so I've been very fortunate. I'm lucky that things have gone well from the beginning at Hendrick and the opportunity that came along that I could have maybe done something different when Ray (Evernham) went with Dodge. I sat down with Rick (Hendrick) at that time and we talked and that conversation went really well and we proceeded forward sticking together. That's the only time that I can think of in all the time I've been with Hendrick there's ever been even an outside chance of me thinking about what else is out there. Even at that time I wasn't like seriously pursuing another opportunity. It's just one that came about and I admired Ray so much and what he was capable of doing that I at least wanted to let Rick know what kind of things were going on out there and it just made a great conversation for me and him to realize where we stood and how bad we both wanted me to be at Hendrick Motorsports. I wanted to be there and I'm glad that it's worked out that way. That's the feeling I got from him to so it's great."

RAY EVERNHAM WAS QUOTED SAYING "IF JEFF GORDON ASKED ME TO COME BACK I'D DO IT IN A SECOND" ANY THOUGHTS ON THAT? "I visit with Ray because he's got a place up in Mooresville (North Carolina). He's got a bunch of cool cars and a really neat spot there. I think a few of the media have been up there. We've always stayed great friends and I admire him and think he's a sharp guy and he's done a lot obviously in this sport. We're always looking to find ways to make ourselves better. If that ever was the case it wouldn't be in a crew chief role, it would probably be -- I don't know we talk racing all the time so he helps me now. It's just as a friend; it's not anything really serious. Like I said, if it's an engineer or team manager whatever options are out there for anybody we always take them serious. With my experience and with Ray being so positive in the past I certainly would ever throw it out. It's not something that is happening, but it's not something I am ever going to say never would."

IS IT A BIG DEAL THAT YOU DIDN'T WIN LAST YEAR OR IS JUST PART OF WHAT HAPPENS? "It was a big deal last year. I mean the season starts in February and ends in November and your goal is to win races and win the championship. Last year was a big deal and it's behind us and we learned from it. We grow from it and make ourselves better and try to make sure it doesn't happen this year. I don't think it's going to. I think we're a stronger, better team. I think we're taking that experience and we're making the most of it. This is a humbling sport and last year was a humbling year for us and made us just realize just how bad we want to win and how bad we don't want to lose and I think we can show that this year."

WHAT WERE SOME OF THE MAIN THINGS YOU THINK CONTRIBUTED TO YOU NOT GETTING INTO VICTORY LANE? "Well I mean you've got to understand that one of the biggest things is the car was just totally different last year. When you've been in the sport as long as I have it's harder to adapt to changes. The longer you're in it the harder it is to adapt to changes so some of it is me adjusting my driving. I can't change how I drive but I can make some small adjustments. These bump stops are just a thing that drive drivers, crew chiefs and engineers up the wall and they're somewhat unpredictable so we battled with that. But we really made improvements toward the end of the year that I don't think really got noticed because of the championship battle that was going on and that's certainly fair. While we weren't the top-three, I felt like we were fourth, fifth best out there in that Chase and that's not too shabby especially with where we started. So to me we took momentum into the off-season because of that. Obviously to compete with Jimmie (Johnson) and Carl (Edwards) we got to step it up a whole lot but you've got to walk before you can run and you can't take '07 and compare it to '08. We had the old car dialed in on 1.5-mile tracks. We were going to Texas and being competitive. That's how good we had the old car. The new car is a whole different animal. That's the biggest challenge is just figuring that out."

DO YOU THINK WITH THE GOODYEAR TIRE, WITH THE BIGGER TIRE COMING ALONG ITS GOING TO HELP WITH THE WAY THE CAR HANDLES ON THE RACE TRACK? "I'm just hoping that tire gives them the opportunity to have a softer tire that can be abused a little bit more that wears out. We've been just riding around on rock-hard tires. What they're trying to do is prevent the tire from having a failure and that's certainly understandable but that's not really a racing tire that optimal for us, from a race team standpoint from racing in general. I'm certainly optimistic about some things I've been hearing about from some of the tire tests."

IN PAST YEARS THE ABUSE FROM THE EARNHARDT FANS HAVE BEEN RELENTLESS AT TIMES BUT LAST YEAR DALE EARNHARDT, JR. JOINED YOU, DID IT LIGHTEN UP A LITTLE LAST YEAR, WERE THEY EASIER ON YOU? "It only lightened up because I wasn't winning. I hope I go back to winning and the boos get loud as can be because that's one of my favorite things to hear."

IT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF GUYS THAT HAVE HAD SUCCESS IN THE NEW CAR, THEIR DRIVERS LOVE TO DRIVE THE CAR LOOSE . . . "I think that is a bunch of baloney. It's not that. Guys drive their cars fast. They don't drive them loose, they don't drive them tight. Your goal is to get the car balanced perfectly front to rear. This car because it doesn't turn in the middle very good, you've got to get the car to rotate and sometimes you've got to get it to rotate a little bit sooner. I had very few issues on entry to corner most of my issues were on middle and exit. The transition getting onto the bump stops under braking, I just like to drive into the corner so deep that when I get on the brakes it just transitions just a too abrupt and too fast, so that's probably one of the biggest things I had to deal with but it wasn't making the car loose."

SO IS THAT SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO CHANGE OR CAN STEVE (LETARTE) MAKE THE CAR WORK FOR YOU? "I think it's a little bit of both. I think that we've got to compromise some of our bump stops and spring combinations to be able to allow me to drive that way just because I do drive that way and I've got to make a few adjustments to be a little bit smoother with those transitions as well. I saw guys that their cars were turning but they were driving forward. That's not loose. It's not pushing, it's that car has grip. There's a big difference."

HOW WERE THEY GETTING GRIP WHEN THEY'RE SIDEWAYS? "Well exactly. You've got guys running 58 percent wedge and stuff these days. I promise you I'm not smart enough to figure it out and just the fact that you don't work on the cars because we've got engineers that can't figure it out. So it's a complicated, very challenging thing but some guys have figured it out better than others and those are the paths that we're going down to try to figure it out."

GIVEN ALL THE CHALLENGES THE SPORT IS FACING RIGHT NOW, HOW MUCH SCRUTINY IS BRIAN (FRANCE) AND HIS ADMINISTRATION FACING? "Well I think it's going to be certainly scrutinized. It's a big sport and a big business and the economy is affecting everybody not just NASCAR. We obviously are driven by a lot of corporate sponsors. Our fans are the most loyal out there and they are all going to be tested during this time so leadership and the decision makers are going to be scrutinized but they're going to be critical as well. I think one of the things that NASCAR has always done well is they have a great group of people that have run it. It's never just one person. It's no different than a race team. It's never just one person. It's all about the team that he's got behind them. I'm confident they're going to do the right thing."

ON THE ECONOMY AND PAY CUTS: "I was just saying we all play a role. Just like I wouldn't expect any other employee at our facility at Hendrick Motorsports to take a pay cut so that I could keep my salary what it is. It's not about that. It's if the economy affects us. If we have to cut costs then I want to know how I can cut costs along with the next guy and the next guy from the top to the bottom. We know what our budget is; we know what the trends have been. We have a pretty good projection of what our income is, but in this kind of an economy those aren't all guaranteed. Every year we look at how we can cut back on costs and how we can raise more money and how we can be more competitive. It's all part of our business. I think with what's happened recently it just made me take another step at looking at what I can do and I'm open. I'm open to anything. I mentioned it during the media session in Charlotte. I personally without the testing that went on over the off-season saved over $100,000 dollars. That's personal travel that's sponsor events it goes to, all the tests that we did. It's one of those things where last January it was like got to go to Vegas. I'm flying all by myself on my plane to Vegas because maybe I'm not in Charlotte and I one of my teammates isn't there or a buddy of mine is not so I'm flying all by myself and then we've got to go to Phoenix. Alright I will grab a couple of guys off the team and we'll go to Phoenix and then let's go to California, you go to California and you test and you don't think about it as much then you get to the end of the year and you look at your quarterly books and you're like whoa, January was big. It was big but because it was a trend that hadn't changed a whole lot, but then this year I looked at it and I flew commercial a couple of times and I was like oh my gosh I had no idea. If it's saved me that much you can imagine what it's saved the teams."

DID YOU FLY COMMERCIAL DOWN HERE JEFF? "I couldn't get a commercial flight to get me into Daytona to get me here in time. I tried."

ON DRIVER'S SALARIES IN THESE TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES. "I just think everybody should be paid fairly and paid fairly within the economy. That's why I've always said a driver should get paid on a percentage basis off of the income to the car based on the sponsorship dollars as well as their earnings on the race track. We've all gotten pretty spoiled the last several years and for good reason the whole sport in general has grown. I've been successful and my salary has been incredible. It's something that I never dreamed it would ever be. That doesn't mean I couldn't live with less. I could and I'd do whatever it takes. It is tough when you get adjusted to a certain lifestyle and income it's definitely not an easy thing to do but it doesn't mean it can't be done."

WILL YOU CONTINUE TO TRY TO FLY COMMERCIAL THIS SEASON? "It doesn't work well when I'm flying my family. For Ingrid and the baby and myself to fly together we're going to fly private. I mean I have a plane and I'm not going to not use it at all but when I'm flying by myself and I'm more flexible on time, I'm not doing as many sponsor appearances this year, those things are being cut back, so everybody is doing cost saving and some of them is in travel and some of them is in entertainment with some of the sponsors and having marketing, so its all changing. Unfortunately I couldn't do a Chevrolet event for Barrett Jackson earlier in the year because I had a Pepsi production day and they obviously are not going to pay for my private plane to take me out there and the commercial flights didn't get me there on time so I had to cancel because of that. I'm going to fly commercial whenever it makes sense and I'm going to fly private when it makes sense. After the race with my family I'm going to fly private still."

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST YOU TO FLY PRIVATE? "My plane is probably between three and four thousand dollars per hour. That's what the total number would be in you look at pilots, storage, fuel, everything and so I flew $69 dollars to Charlotte, I'd say I saved a little bit."

WHERE WAS THE FLIGHT FROM? "I was on US Airways LaGuardia to Charlotte the day before the one went down. Not the exact same flight. The night before."

WHOSE IDEA WAS IT FOR THE BLACK CAR? "You know I had a quarter midget when I was like eight or nine years old that was black, we didn't have florescent colors that we could paint with that I remember back then, but it had red and yellow flames on it and it was always one of my favorites. That picture is in my stepfather's office and I don't remember how the first conversations led to changing up the paint scheme but when we did start talking about it we always knew we wanted to keep the flames but we just wanted to make them a little bit more wild and vivid. Then the black brought in it. It's a funny story because the very first original DuPont Chevrolet with the rainbow was a black car. It was black with a rainbow paint scheme and I don't really know how it got changed to blue but it did. It got changed to blue and then it stayed that blue forever. So I think some of that as well as that quarter midget I had is what brought it all about. Then Sam Bass has been involved with all our paint schemes played a role in it."

WAS THERE ANY THOUGHT OF FIRING UP THE EARNHARDT FANS AGAIN WITH GOING WITH THE BLACK CAR? "No. I just think black with red and yellow flames it doesn't get any cooler than that. I think it's an awesome car. I'm really pumped to drive it and it had nothing to do with Earnhardt."

ARE YOU STILL MOTIVATED BY WINNING TODAY? "I think more because when you're coming up and you're young you just don't know what your future holds. You're just driving and not thinking about it. But now I know what it is like to win and I appreciate it so much and worked so hard for all these years so nothing is driving me more than the desire to win and the fact that we didn't win last year."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Denny Hamlin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports